Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera signed a law on Monday allowing a referendum on a new constitution for the country. The law was passed by the Chilean congress last week following more than two months of violent protests. The vote is scheduled for April 26, and asks voters two questions: should Chile have a new constitution and who should write it, an assembly of elected citizens or an assembly that would include a mix of current lawmakers?
Protests began after the government raised fares for Santiago’s metro service on October 4, with people jumping turnstiles and evading the fare en masse. After protestor destruction of several metro stations, the government declared a state of emergency on October 18 and imposed curfews and limits on movement and assembly. Despite the restrictions, more than 1.2 million people marched in a demonstration in the capital as the protest broadened to encompass widespread discontent with the government.
Chile on the whole successfully transitioned from dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet to a democracy in the 1990s and made significant economic growth, but that windfall has largely benefited the elites. The current protests are motivated by high levels of income inequality, inadequate social services and lack of personal liberties. In response lawmakers came to an agreement to replace the Pinochet-era constitution.
The demonstrations have caused major disruptions across the country, including forcing the 2019 UN climate change conference to move from Chile to Spain. The UN Human Rights Office has also released a report detailing allegations of police violence against demonstrators, including accusations of torture and rape of detainees. Almost 5,000 people have been injured over the last two months, with at least 26 people killed, including a protestor run over by an armored vehicle last week.